Last fall, I planted whipcord cedars and this spring the tips have turned golden brown. They were not golden brown when I unwrapped the burlap from them a month ago. This has happened within the last 2 weeks or so. As I said, I wrapped them in burlap over the winter and lightly fertilized them just after I noticed the brown tips. Is this normal? I am worried that they are dying, but I’m not too sure. Any help as to what, if anything, I should do would be appreciated.
Whipcord cedars are known to develop bronze foliage in the winter, but from your photograph, it is the tips, and not the entire branch, that is browning. Wrapping your cedar at least for the first year in burlap for the winter does help to protect it, but even a light application of fertilizer early in the spring can further stress a young plant that has recently been transplanted into the garden – transplant shock can cause leaf dieback. An application of organic material such as compost is often recommended instead of fertilizer, applied around the base of the cedar (but leaving space around the trunk), to provide your young conifer with improved soil nutrients. Western red cedars (Thuja plicata), of which your Whipcord is a variety, require moist but well drained soil. You do not say where you are located, but in our wet Toronto spring, it is unlikely that it has not received enough water. In your case, with an inorganic mulch of rocks, you will need to keep a close eye on irrigation throughout the heat of summer since rocks increase the soil temperature below and decrease the moisture available in the soil. Our advice is to monitor your cedar throughout this growing season in the hope that it recovers from these early signs of stress as it grows.